With the unveiling of the latest iPhone reportedly slated for September 12, rumors continue to abound as to what the next generation of this iconic device will bring to the mobile industry – particularly as the evolution of the iPhone tends to send ripples through the mobile landscape at large. When the first iPhone was released in 2007, it paved the way for greater adoption of smartphones among mobile users, pioneering the use of touch screens and sleek mobile user interfaces. Comscore MobiLens data show that iPhone users now account for a third of the 114 million U.S. smartphone users age 13+ as the iPhone continues to carve out an increasing share of this rapidly expanding market.
In tracing the evolution of the iPhone over the past 5 years, we’ve also seen the iPhone popularize the use of mobile apps through the introduction of the App Store and significantly raise the profile of smartphones as devices used more broadly for mobile media consumption. Concurrently, we’ve seen the demographics of iPhone users shift from being predominantly male, affluent, and younger to having an equal split between genders, with the youngest and oldest age segments and users earning between $50-$75K figuring among the fastest growing segments.
With the release of newer iPhone models over the years, the device has grown in adoption not just because of improvements made, but also because of efforts made by Apple to bring the iPhone to a broader mass market. When the iPhone was first released in the U.S., it was made available only through a single carrier – AT&T (then Cingular). Since the release of the iPhone 4 on Verizon, Apple has continually broadened the network of wireless carriers for the iPhone and sold older generations of the phone at discounted prices, making the device more accessible to the average consumer.
Despite the availability of earlier generation iPhone models at significantly more affordable price points, the growth in the iPhone’s user base as of late appears to come primarily from adopters of more recently-released models. Today, nearly 2 in 5 of the 38.2 million Americans using iPhones are on the iPhone 4, which was released just two years ago. More impressive than that is the fact that 35 percent of iPhone users today are on the iPhone 4S, which was released less than a year ago.
With the impending release of the next iteration of the iPhone, all eyes will be focused on the changes that the next generation of this device brings to the market. As we observed prior to the release of the iPhone 4S, any move that Apple makes could have an impact on the mobile industry at large. Among the new features rumored to be included in the new iPhone, the capacity to support LTE network connectivity stands out as perhaps one of the most heavily-anticipated improvements to the device and one that represents a significant upgrade to the mobile web experience.
Although less than 10 percent of smartphone users currently use LTE-enabled devices, we have seen adoption of LTE-enabled phones increase nearly tenfold in the past year. This growth may reflect both that device manufacturers increasingly see the value of supporting LTE and that mobile users have a willingness to pay to support their demand for faster mobile media consumption.
If the new iPhone does support LTE, it could indicate that Apple is betting that faster mobile connectivity will usher in the future of the industry, driving greater mobile media consumption and paving the way for additional shifts in the way people already use their smartphones. What could this mean for the mobile industry at large? Across the board, having the iPhone support LTE could be a boost to LTE adoption. At the moment, wireless networks such as Verizon which already have a robust infrastructure in place to support LTE stand to gain an advantage. But as other carriers continue to build up their own LTE capabilities, such an advantage may be fleeting.
What can be said with certainty is that whatever changes Apple introduces with the next iPhone, it will reshape not just the mobile media landscape but the very complexion of the digital media industry at large.